Saturday, June 25, 2016
This week, with the tornado warnings, I am recalling the tornado which destroyed our home in Bloomingburg when I was four years old.
All of our lives we heard about "the cyclone"; I was in the ninth grade when Mrs. Biddle told us that it had actually been a tornado and explained the difference between a cyclone and a tornado. Despite that knowledge, it was always "the cyclone" in our family.
The birth of my younger brother, the tornado and its aftermath, are my earliest memories. The day of the tornado, March 19, my brother Norman was was playing on the kitchen floor, and I was sitting at the counter as Mother was making blackberry cobbler.
I can remember the big bowl of purple liquid as I saw white things falling into it. Suddenly my mother grabbed me and she was on top of me and my brother Norman on the kitchen floor.
Our home, which had been an old store building beside the post office, was destroyed. What followed was the defining moment of my life. My father and the four older boys went to live with his mother in Bloomingburg, while Mother, Norman, the baby Roger, and I were, as my mother would always say, "bandied about from pillar to post"; we were homeless. We went to stay with her mother but that was short-lived, because her mother wanted to whip us. My mother, herself an abused child, never struck any of us; she didn't believe in hitting a child. I never had a lick, a spanking, any physical punishment in my life except scraps with the brothers and schoolyard tussles. [My husband says THAT is what is wrong with me!]
I can vividly remember the day we left my grandmother's house. I was in the back yard of my grandmother's house and there were some other kids by the fence. I wanted to play with them, but I had been warned to stay in the yard. Suddenly, my grandmother grabbed my arm saying that she had told me not to be there and she said she was going to get a switch to whip me. My mother ran out of the house, rescued me, and her mother said that if she couldn't discipline the "heathens" then we could "hit the road!". There we were, Norman and I, with Mother carrying the baby, trudging along the street to my aunt's house, carrying our few belongings in paper bags. We couldn't stay there long either; my aunt had, at that time, six children of her own. We stayed with other friends until my mother finally was able to arrange for us to return to Bloomingburg and we lived in one large room at the Dave Tway house on Main Street. Dave had an apartment and the rest of the house was made into apartments. I can remember our happy reunion with my brothers who had been living with our other grandmother. By that time, we had been "bandied about" for more than a year. After that, we lived in a succession of rentals: a small house in Bloomingburg, in a house on Myers Road during the blizzard, then on Lewis Road, and finally on Yatesville-Wissler Road.
I know that the ordeal was what made me want to have my own home and also the reason I have rental properties. I always think that if something "happens" to this house, that I can always live in one of the others.
My mother had a life-long enmity toward the American Red Cross, because when she asked for help, they refused. She was told we could stay with relatives. The names of the Red Cross officials: "Ole" Rell Allen, Arch Reiber, Arthur Maddux, and Emmitt Passmore were anathema in our family.
One day, thirty years after the tornado, Mother mentioned the "cyclone" and I asked, "Mother, Norman and I were in the kitchen with you; where was the baby?" In all those intervening years, I had never thought about where my younger brother was during the tornado. In my entire life, I saw my mother cry just twice, but at that moment, I saw tears well up in her eyes as she said that he was in the bedroom. She said that she knew she couldn't get to him and she just got on top of Norman and me. I said, "Well, obviously Duke didn't get hurt." She said, "No, he never even woke up!" I put my arms around her and sensing the depth of that emotion and the split-second decision she had to make, I was so grateful that I had never had to make a "Sophie's Choice" in my own life!